A veteran of British TV and film, Scottish actress Amy Manson took a brave new step, so to speak, into American television this season when she was cast in the recurring role of Merida in the hit ABC adventure fantasy series “Once Upon a Time.” Currently enjoying a mid-season break after appearing in six episodes last fall, Manson, 30, recently talked with me for D23.com. She discussed the origins of Merida—who, of course, debuted in the 2012 Disney/Pixar Best Animated Feature Oscar winner, “Brave”—her work on “Once Upon a Time,” and when she’ll appear on the show next after Season 5 resumes March 6.
Tim Lammers: During the mid-season break, have you had time to step back and let everything sink in about just how amazing this opportunity has been?
Amy Manson: Maybe when I went home for Christmas to Scotland. It’s one thing to be in your homeland as opposed to trying to re-create a place as your homeland, when you only have yourself, your thoughts, and your memories when you’re filming. Having time with my family in Scotland, and especially with my father—given the events of Merida’s storyline in the show—made me feel grateful. Being home really gave me my first chance to think of everything.
Sylvester Stallone is back and better than ever in “Creed,” a smartly plotted Rocky Balboa film that forgoes the formula of the previous “Rocky” installments and instead frames Stallone as a crucial supporting character. The film naturally feels like a Rocky film since it involves the family of his late formal rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed, yet moves the story of the boxer saga ahead with a fresh and plausible storyline.
“Creed” re-teams Michael B. Jordan and his “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler, and the actor and filmmaker deliver another solid one-two punch with “Creed.” Jordan plays Adonis Johnson
, a troubled youth who, as it turns out, is the product of an extramarital affair Apollo Creed had near the end of his career. However, Apollo died before Adonis was born, and after his mother dies, the angry young son of Creed becomes a ward of the state. However, when Creed’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) discovers the boy, she adopts him as her own and raises him into an upstanding young man.
Even though Adonis’ future appears bright, he can’t resist the urge to fight and pursue a career as a professional boxer. But if Adonis is ever to forge the same sort of path as his famous father he needs to find the proper trainer to guide him, and his only choice is Rocky. However, the former champ is worn down emotionally by a life that includes the loss of his wife, Adrian, and physically by years of beatings in the ring. But since Adonis is like family to Rocky, he reluctantly takes on the upstart Adonis, who clearly has the same fire in his belly as the father he never knew.
Naturally, “Creed” has a similar feel to the “Rocky” films, because you simply can’t have a story of a fighter without the requisite training and fight sequences if you’re going to properly tell the story. But that’s where the similarities begin and end. The key to the success of this film is the realistic storyline of a fighter who’s unwilling to fight under the name of his famous father, and the heartfelt connection between him and Rocky. Like the first two films in the “Rocky” saga, “Creed” contains both the raw intensity of the fight game, which is met in equal measure by an emotionally engaging narrative.
While Jordan displays a great range as the hungry Adonis, Stallone – who is clearly in his element as Rocky – is tasked with most of the emotional heavy-lifting. With “Creed,” we see a side of the character we’ve never seen before: a former champ nearing the final stretch of his life who is physically a mere shadow of his famous former self. Stallone is simply brilliant in the way he brings the character full circle.
The great thing about “Creed” is its one of those movies that seems to be going down a predictable path, until a vicious left hook knocks you for a loop and changes the way you’ll look at the outcome as the film plays out. Maybe “Creed” won’t end up being this year’s box office champ, but the film – and Stallone in particular – certainly have earned the right to be a serious contender this awards season. It’s a real winner.
“The Good Dinosaur” (PG) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Pixar Animation hits paydirt once again following the phenomenal success of “Inside Out” with “The Good Dinosaur,” a prehistoric tale that doesn’t have quite the complexity of this summer’s smash brain tale, but contains just as much emotion and heart. Clearly tailored for the youngest of audience members, “The Good Dinosaur” still manages to entertain the kid in all of us with a parade of colorful characters, wondrous animation and lots of action to fill its vast landscape.
“The Good Dinosaur” begins 65 million years ago with a simple yet fascinating premise: What if the asteroid that once obliterated the dinosaurs completely missed Earth and the creatures lived? Because of that, the dinosaurs survived, evolved and thrived, and millions and millions of years later, they confront a completely different sort of animal.
Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand voice Poppa and Momma, an Apatosaurus couple who hatch three dinosaur babies: Libby, Buck and Arlo. As Libby and Buck grow they quickly adapt to their surroundings and find their place in their lives, but the under-sized Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), clumsy and fearful, never seems to fit in. Tasked to protect the family’s food supply, Arlo discovers the creature that keeps breaking into their storage is actually a wild cave boy – and while the young dino is on the hunt for him, he is swept up in a river current and finds himself lost, alone and far away from home. Saved by the boy, who he dubs Spot, Arlo befriends the curious creature, and the two team together as they begin a trek that will hopefully lead back to Arlo’s family.
“The Good Dinosaur” begins more as cute film that seems to only appeal to young kids at the outset, but once Pixar takes a page out of the Disney playbook and a tragedy rocks the narrative, it suddenly becomes emotionally engaging for the entire audience. While the film is at its core a heartfelt coming-of-age tale for both Arlo and Spot, it’s enhanced by every colorful character they encounter on the long and winding trek home. The voice cast is excellent (particularly Sam Elliott as a T-Rex named Butch), making for a completely lovable supporting cast (apart from a trio of bad creatures). A film ultimately about the importance of core families and adoptive families, “The Good Dinosaur” is a perfect family film for Thanksgiving weekend.
There are five main emotions in mind, quite literally, that drive “Inside Out” – fear, sadness, anger and disgust – but it’s joy you’ll be jumping for at the conclusion of the movie, featuring one of the most original, mind-bending storylines to come out of Hollywood since Christopher Nolan’s brilliant dream adventure “Inception.”
Unlike “Inception,” “Inside Out,” of course is meant for audiences big and small since it’s the brainchild of Pixar, and it’s easily one of the best offering from the computer animation giant since “Up.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the director and co-writer of that Best Animated Feature Oscar winner Pete Docter, whose career with his third feature e
ffort (his debut came with 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.”) continues to soar.
“Inside Out” takes place in the mind of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), a rambunctious 11-year-old girl on the cusp of adolescence. Her actions are driven at a console by five emotions in the headquarters of her brain: Joy (Amy Pohler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and those emotions are about to get very mixed.
Still adjusting to her move with Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle McLachlan) from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley’s mood turns from happy to very sad and distant when Sadness begins to touch her core memories, which are each contained in tiny spheres. If an effort to keep Sadness at bay, Joy and her polar opposite are accidentally tossed headlong into the long-term memory of Riley’s brain, leaving only Anger, Fear and Disgust to help the girl navigate through her new surroundings. Attempting to find their way back to headquarters, Joy and Sadness find themselves struggling to keep Riley’s happy memories intact, not yet realizing that every emotion – not just Joy – is needed to guide the growing girl through life.
While “Inside Out” is a great companion piece to “Inception,” the audience for it is much broader. True, it’s very thought-provoking, and the narrative may be hard to grasp for the youngest tots in the audience, but what they will see develop in front of them, as Riley revisits her young life through various core and long-term memories of her life, will entertain them nonetheless. It goes without saying, of course, that the computer animation is brilliant, and the film’s vibrant colors and action is only illuminated by the film’s top-notch 3D presentation.
Beyond the youngest of audience members, kids 9 and above will better identify with the emotional weight that carries “Inside Out,” and naturally, adults, who experienced these emotions for many more years, will be the ones most moved by the movie. Life is full of many emotions, and you’ll get to relive them all again here, with joy and sadness – adding up to laughter and poignancy – at the forefront of this wonderful moviegoing experience. It may even change the way you look at things.
“Inside Out” is preceded by the Pixar short, “Lava,” which follows the song of a lonely volcano looking for companionship over millions of years. Driven by a touching Hawaiian tune penned by writer-director James Ford Murphy, look for “Lava” – as well as “Inside Out” – to be mentioned early and often as sure bets to be nominated (if not eventually the big winners) during awards season.
“Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” (PG-13) 3 1/2 (out of four)
While the title sounds pretty ominous, there’s no question Alfonso Gomez-Rejon pulls off a masterful balance of humor, heartbreak and hope with “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl,” an irreverent comedy drama that tackles a difficult subject matter with surprising results. It’s easy to see how the film captured both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, bringing an independent filmmaking spirit to a film a major studio would be leery to make.
Thomas Mann stars as Greg, an awkward Pittsburgh high school senior who’s managed to stay invisible his whole life. His only activity is making off-kilter spoofs of famous movies with his “co-worker” Early (RJ Cyler), a neighborhood kid that he won’t call a friend in fear of getting too close to him. Greg inadvertently begins to come out of his shell, though, when his Mom (Connie Britton) demands that he consoles Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow senior who’s been diagnosed with cancer. First showing up out of obligation, Greg and Rachel become fast friends, and along with Earl, they experience life’s uncertainties as “The Dying Girl,” as Rachel is called, faces a tough treatment regimen in a bid to save her life.
Naturally, people are going to want to compare “Me and Earl to the Dying Girl” to last year’s teen cancer drama “The Fault in Our Stars,” but thanks to the film’s offbeat humor and tone, it couldn’t be any further from it. Yes, there’s a very serious underlying theme to the film, but the approach to the film is anything but ordinary.
Mann, Cyler and Cooke are all terrific in the title roles, which are bolstered by strong supporting turns by Britton, Nick Offerman (as Greg’s Dad), Molly Shannon (as Rachel’s Mom) and Jon Bernthal (as Greg and Earl’s favorite teacher). It may not be the easiest film to watch, but “Me and Early and The Dying Girl” is full of zest and a wonderful celebration of life.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11”and various Minnesota radio stations.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers